HEART
August 30, 2010

Cut the Meat

Women who eat more fish, nuts, and low-fat dairy seriously decrease their risk of heart disease, compared to red meat eaters.

A new study from the American Heart Association (AHA) finds that women who eat protein-rich foods other than red meat have a lowered risk for heart disease. Some choices, like nuts, may lower heart risk by up to 30%, according to the researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Adam M. Bernstein and his colleagues analyzed data from over 84,000 women (ages 30-55) who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study over a period of 26 years. The women filled out questionnaires periodically over this time about what foods they ate and with what frequency.

Women who ate more nuts, poultry, low-fat dairy, and fish had a markedly reduced risk of developing heart disease, compared women who ate even one serving a day of red meat.

The researchers also kept track of how many of the nurses had heart trouble or died from heart-related causes. Even though men were not part of the original Nurses' Health Study, it is likely the findings lgenerally apply to men as well as women.

About 2,200 of the women had non-fatal heart attacks and 952 died from heart disease.

Women who ate two or more servings of red meat per day decreased their likelihood of developing heart disease by 30%, compared to women who ate half a serving per day. And women who ate more nuts, poultry, low-fat dairy, and fish had a markedly reduced risk of developing heart disease, compared women who ate even one serving a day of red meat.

When the researchers broke down the numbers, they found that women who ate one serving nuts instead had a 30% reduced risk of heart disease and women who ate one serving of fish had a 24% reduced risk, compared to those who ate red meat once a day. For poultry and low-fat dairy, the associated risk reduction was 19% and 13%, respectively, compared to red meat eaters.

"There are good protein-rich sources that do not involve red meat," Bernstein said in the AHA press release. "You don’t need to have hot dogs, hamburgers, bologna or pastrami, which are all fresh or processed meats."

There’s good evidence that the findings will also apply to men, said Bernstein, based on what researchers already know about heart disease risk. He concludes that "[t]hose who are concerned and want to reduce their risk of heart disease should consider replacing red meat with other protein-rich foods including fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products and nuts," Bernstein said.

The study was published in the August 16, 2010 online edition of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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